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Friday, June 22, 2012

Is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 88 squad the No. 1 team at Hendrick Motorsports?

Move over Jimmie Johnson; there’s a new No. 1 in town at Hendrick Motorsports. Or is there?

In the discussions coming in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s Michigan win and battle for the points lead, team owner Rick Hendrick indicated that the 88 team might be the top squad in his Cup shops; for this season at least.

Asked about this issue, 5-time-champ Johnson said he welcomes the challenges from his own teammates to be the best.

(Dale’s) leading the points as far as the Hendrick guys are concerned, so rivalry is great, especially within a race team and a shop. And I think even Jeff (Gordon) and I, when things got maybe a little bit more than they should have, it was still good for the company and we’re still making our cars better,” Jimmie said Friday at Sonoma. “But we all need to climb in a race car thinking that we’re the best and believing in it and then going out there and backing it up. Junior’s had been highest in points all year long. He got his win and all four cars are in great shape and we all want to be that guy. I’m happy that he has that attitude and I certainly want to beat him and show him that I’m the guy (laughs). So, now it’s time to go racing.”

My take: Jimmie Johnson is still the man at Hendrick, and will be so even if Jr. has a tremendous year. But it’s not a surprise that Rick would have a soft spot for Jr.
He lost his son tragically, Dale lost his dad tragically. This is a big part of their relationship dynamic.

“Dale and I have a real bond. I look at him not like a son, but close to it,” Hendrick said this week. “I've known him since he was a kid. He and Kelley and I have been tight for a long time. The fact that he had faith in me and I saw him run good and knew he could drive, knew he had the talent, to come to our organization and then to fail, I mean, I did not want that on my résumé because he had faith in me. I was going to do everything in my power to give him what he needed to get the job done.”

“So, yeah, we had one good year, a couple of not good years, but now I think we have the foundation and the base to show the Junior Nation and the NASCAR community what Dale Jr. can do and what he's all about”

You can bet the France family is rooting right along with Rick, because if Jr. can run well every week and win races regularly, they will be cheering all the way to the bank with the residual effects a strong 88 car would have on their pocketbook.

Marcos Ambrose scores second record-breaking pole position in two weeks; Look for him to battle Jeff Gordon for win on Sunday

Some drivers had a rough day in Sonoma qualifying. That includes Jeff Burton, who will start 35th; Robby Gordon, a road course race who will start just 34th ; Boris Said, another rod course ace, in 28th ; Kevin Harvick in 26th ; and last week’s winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will have a long way to the front after starting 19th .

On the contrary,some great speeds were put in by some other drivers. Of course Marcos Ambrose followed up last week’s all-time best pole (203+ mph) at MIS with another record pole at Sonoma (at just 95 mph). He will be a threat to win on Sunday without a doubt.

This is the track where a rookie mistake by Ambrose cost him a win a few years back. Still Ambrose doesn’t feel like he is owed a win here.

“No, no it doesn’t (owe me a win). I beat myself up here in 2010. It was nothing to do with the car or the track, it was me. I have got to make amends for that if I can and with experience comes knowledge and I know what not to do on the last restart and we will go from there. I am excited to be given the opportunity to drive for RPM and be the Stanley driver this weekend. We have as good a chance as anyone to win the race and that is all you can ask.”

My actual pick to win Sunday is the guy starting second – Jeff Gordon, who knows his way around this place well. He has the ability to take the win and jump into the Wild Card battle.

Gordon was quite happy with his qualifying performance, which reminded him of his glory days at the track.

“I was very pleased with the lap. I know we got second, but it was a good lap. Marcos (Ambrose) put down one heck of a lap and that was going to be tough to beat. So, I wasn’t going to allow myself to be reeled in too much to try to get so aggressive to shoot for the pole to where we ruined a good, solid qualifying effort. So I tried to attack areas that I felt the car had it in it, and showed that in practice, and the car stuck; and other areas where I felt like if I attacked I could go over the edge. I was making sure that I didn’t do that. So it was a very solid lap, the best lap I’ve had here in a number of years and I’m very pleased.”

Other good starts include Jimmie Johnson in 3rd, Greb Biffle in 4th, Kurt Busch in 8th, Matt Kenseth in 9th and Brad Keselowski in 13th.

Baby Otis on the way soon for Harvicks

Delana Harvick is just about ready to bring into this world the baby she and hubby Kevin Harvick have dubbed Baby Otis.

Just in case, Kevin has a standby driver (David Mayhew) waiting to jump in his car this weekend should he be called away if Delana goes into labor. (See for Delana’s weekly update on the pregnancy)

My advice to Kevin: Enjoy your sleep now, you’re not going to get much for a little while after the baby is born. But it’ll all be worth it.


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